On Friday last week, the House voted on a $9.84 billion general appropriations bill to fund state government for Fiscal Year 2023, which starts July 1.
The measure was sent to the governor, and he has until Thursday at midnight to act on it.
This budget includes historic high funding for education – $3.2 billion for K-12 and $873 million (a seven percent increase) for higher education. We also for the first time authorized about $401.9 million for the Teacher’s Retirement Revolving Fund.
We also appropriated $15.7 million ($4 million more than FY22) to fully fund concurrent enrollment programs for high school juniors and seniors this year, which will be a big deal for Carl Albert State College. These programs are great in helping prepare high schoolers for college and in getting them some advance college credits.
Together, this totals about 48 percent of our overall state budget for education. In addition to state funding, K-12 schools have received just under $1.5 billion in federal relief money, and higher education has gotten about $600 million.
Also this year, we increased the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges Fund by $5 million a year for five years, taking the total up to $150 million by the end Fiscal Year 2027. Many counties also received American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, and each has discretion on how to spend such funding within federal limitations. Some counties have chosen to use some of their direct ARPA funding for county road and bridge purposes.
Our budget also gives Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers a 30 percent pay raise. This is the first increase they’ve received in seven years. We also are funding an academy for new troopers. As troopers retire, we need fresh recruits to replace them so we can keep motorists on state roadways in all 77 counties safe.
We appropriated $30 million to the Rural Economic Area Partnership Program, which makes grants available to rural communities throughout the state to help with projects that otherwise would go unfunded. These can include road repairs, equipment purchases, utility infrastructure, and much more.
One area of the budget in which I am ashamed is the pitiful amount we are returning to taxpayers. We voted to send rebates of $75 to individual taxpayers and $150 to families. We also restored the sales tax exemption of 1.25% on motor vehicle purchases. But this is too little. I want to apologize to my constituents for failing to return more of their money to them.
When this budget is signed into law, we’ll have almost $3 billion in state savings’ accounts. I know some of that might be necessary to help us deal with future economic downturns, but that’s a lot of taxpayer money for the government to keep ahold of.
Also this year, we’ve set aside almost $1 billion for economic development projects to lure a global manufacturer to the state. We’ve promised them tax rebates in exchange for development and jobs. I like both of those things, but in 2018, this legislative body voted to raise taxes on Oklahomans to give teachers a raise. This year, when we have record state revenues topping $11 billion, we are giving money away to a global company instead of returning it to our taxpayers. We’re picking winners and losers.
Remember to listen to me on KPRV Radio at 7:30 a.m. every Thursday for my legislative update.
As always, if I can help you with anything, feel free to call my Capitol office at (405) 557-7413 or email me at email@example.com.
Rick West serves District 3 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. His district includes part of LeFlore County.
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